The is a quote from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1996 “For Ever Mozart”:
“Knowledge of the possibility of representation consoles us for being enslaved to life. Knowledge of life consoles us for the fact that representation is but shadow.”
It was said by a highly anal French director who works with two bodies fresh off a Sarajevo bombing, and afterwards the director shoots an actress, only to say “Oui” (Yes in French) right, and it takes about 30 takes to get it right. Take a bit of time and mediate on this. It is deep. This is what I understand of it:
We are stuck in this deep abyss between life and representation. “The possibility of representation” is the possibility of escape from the real. But it is absurd since without “the possibility of representation” any understanding of the real (actually defining the real) is impossible. “The possibility of representation” is thus all we have besides the concrete life, the real. It is not only art, but it includes science, religion (however inferior), and the gaze (inward and outward) itself. It is what is left of the Universe to the imagination, and this imagination is what make us what we are. Representation is our view of life; it is precisely what is not life in us. It becomes our project and consolation.
But we go on. We still have life to live, and we have got the representation to carry us through. So we live and in doing so discover that representation is “but shadow.” Shadow could mean a lot; maybe a silhouette or a dark projection or even a hard-to-get rid of company. Or maybe just an incomplete imperfect image. Now “knowledge of life” is not life, it is merely a hope that we will live and experience something real. So once immersed in representation, we view a hope of life only as a consolation. We again tend to like to escape from the too much representation into a hope of life, to escape from a shadow of life (and ourselves in it) to life’s reality.
But I also looked at it from the view of the director in the film. He yearns for good acting, but what does that mean within his quote’s context? It is a bit different like that. His actress was unsuccessful of rendering “Oui” satisfactorily because she was “enslaved to life.” The moment she pronounced “Oui” satisfactorily was when she left the set and she didn’t know that the camera was rolling. It was a stolen shot. So maybe the consolation is representation being shadow was this shot, when he attained knowledge of her life, not on film, but in reality, only with a shot as a shadow of that moment.